Fawcett, $6.99, ISBN 0-449-00127-X
Historical Romance, 1999
Amanda Davenport is a homesick Englishwoman stranded in the Southern Australia outbacks after insisting on staying by her employer’s bedside, causing her to miss her ship home. Eventually she seeks employment as a governess to the children of Patrick O’Reilly, a wealthy landowner, and ta-da! It’s love.
Ms Proctor writes too well to produce a clunker story. But this book happens to hit on one of my pet peeves: unruly, irritatingly undisciplined children that run amok practically throughout the whole book. This book has Liam O’Reilly – Charles Manson and Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler in the making – running supreme while Dear Daddy smiles indulgently and poor Amanda going, “Children behave! But don’t punish them, I believe in pop-psych parenting skills of advice and suffering in silence – anything but physical punishment!” Liam goes as far as to put a poisonous snake under her blanket and Amanda suggests that it is best to punish him by keeping mum. I wonder who will blame who when they all end up on Jerry Springer one day, talking about how the parents screwed up the kids.
But a worse flaw to me is the fact that Amanda doesn’t seem to fall in love with Patrick – she falls in love with his sad past. The woman does cast furtive glances at a well-muscled, shirtless Patrick laboring around the place, of course, but she insists on not letting anything grow out of it, until she hears Patrick’s sad story about the women in his life abandoning him because they can’t stand the hardships and brutality of this place. All of a sudden she makes a complete turnaround, suddenly feeling ashamed of her homesickness – and worse, Englishness – and what do you know, she loves him! But why? These two people are always very busy – he managing the land, she managing the monsters – that they hardly have any quiet times together. The only way these two could fall in love is by the insistent prodding of the author’s pen.
Amanda, for all her supposed courage, cannot stand up to Patrick or the children. What she needs to do to make me respect her is to get Liam a blistering setting down for his obnoxious behaviour and Patrick another one for letting his children run wild and ignoring their upbringing. But she never could, because she loses her nerve whenever she sees handsome, virile Patrick. Likewise, Patrick would have earned my respect if he ignores Amanda’s feeble “Don’t punish him, let me do it!” (which she never did) and gives Liam a tanning that serial-killer-in-the-making deserves. Also, Patrick’s open derision on Amanda’s Englishness encourages open rebellion on the monsters’ part. This is one jingoistic redneck in the making, and Amanda actually loves him for it. Sometimes love is blind.
Patrick wants a woman who could love the land, but in all his narrow views for an ideal mate, he never considers what Amanda wants. It’s all “Me, I want this, it’s all supposed to go my way, and those women are sluts because they abandon me for England!” It never did occur to him that these women have their own side of the story. Amanda’s capitulation to Phillip, including forsaking her homesickness for that man and the monsters, never ring true, what with so little moment given to her interaction with Phillip, and smacks of misplaced guilt on behalf of those women he felt wronged by.
Likewise, I have no idea how Amanda could love the monsters, especially Liam, who more than once places her life in jeopardy by his definitely-not-harmless pranks. This woman must be a masochist.
As a result, September Moon reads like a woman’s misplaced affections for a man she is more in awe of than in love with. Ms Proctor does infuse plenty of atmosphere and many vivid, vibrant scenes of survival in the arid, harsh, drought-ridden Australian outback. Hence it makes a nice travelogue too, if I may say so myself. Anything but a compelling romance, which is a pity. I know Ms Proctor can work magic, but this one isn’t it.